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Art from Cuba & Conversation from Cuban America

One Island, Many Voices: Conversations with Cuban-American Writers, Eduardo R. del Rio (U Arizona P) $22.95

Despite the redundancy that labels its writers—though I do acknowledge that there are no current improvements—del Rio’s interviews offer a worthwhile exploration of culture and language in our contemporary literature. Following his insightful  introduction, a concise synopsis of the themes and concerns of contemporary Cuban-American writing, Rio begins his interviews with Pulitzer-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, whose thoughts on language are especially interesting. He says,

My first language is the Spanish language. I think and dream in Spanish. My thought process, the way I construct it, has very much of a Spanish sensibility. The way a Spanish person would speak. That’s something I try to capture in my language as a playwright. Sometimes it doesn’t make much sense in the English language, and I have to construct the sentence in a different way. It’s something that I’m very aware of as a writer. I’m very interested in capturing the cadence of Cuban people when they speak, but in English. I think the language itself doesn’t necessarily matter. What I’m talking about is a certain kind of sensibility that I try to capture in my characters. That sensibility contains the Cuban culture.

He goes on to discuss his attempts to capture that cadence in his work for the stage.

In his interview, Roberto Fernández, the novelist known for his comedic wit describes Cuban-American writers well: “We’re like chameleons. We can switch cultures. We can switch languages.” The rest of the collection, which contains significant representation by Cuban-American women, proves just that.

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Cuba: Art and History from 1868 to Today, ed. Nathalie Bondil. (The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts/Prestel) $49.95

XXXA special thanks to Prestel  and The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for permission to use the images below.

A comprehensive survey of the last century and a half of Cuban art, Prestel’s mammoth paperback contains over 400 reproductions, ranging from Moisés Hernández Fernández class commentary untitled 1927 photograph of a horse sitting on a man’s back, perhaps riding him, while well-dressed spectators stare on, to Los Carpinteros 1999 grenade-shaped jewelry box. An especially interesting section catalogues posters of the 1950s and 60s: several trippy portraits of Che, others anouncing solidarity with Laos, Viet Nam, Guatemala, Zimbabwe, and Palestine, and Eladio Rivadulla’s trail of leafcutter ants accompanied by the text “Emulando Venceremos” (“Emulating We Will Win”). The book’s text is equally compelling, ranging from Rosa Lowinger’s sketch history of the Cuban club scene, from the 20s and 30s’ Sloppy Joe’s to Montmartre and Meyer Lansky’s Copa Room at the Hotel Riviera, to Ambrosio Fornet’s personal reminiscence of the 1960s.

Los Carpinteros
Active in Havana since 1991

Alexandre Arrechea
Born in Las Villas in 1970
Marco Castillo
Born in Camagüey in 1971
Dagoberto Rodriguez
Born in Villa Clara in 1969
Estuche [Jewellery Case] | 1999
Cypress, 225.1 x 129.9 x 129.9 cm
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts | Purchase, The Museum Campaign 1988-1993 Fund Photo: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Christine Guest
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Eladio Rivadulla
Born in Havana in 1923
Emulando venceremos [Emulating We Will Win] | 1960s
Poster Silkscreen, 81 54.5 cm
Collection of the artist
Courtesy of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana
Photo: Rodolfo Martínez, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana.
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AAAS

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Moisés Hernández Fernández
Spain, 1877 – Santiago de Cuba, 1939
Untitled, Santiago de Cuba | 1927
Gelatin silver print, 16.3 x 25.4 cm
Diaro de Cuba Collection, Fototeca de Cuba, Havana

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